Taizé services: Peace in prayer

The words are simple, the songs short, but repetition builds to beauty in local observances of a service that has become increasingly popular worldwide.

The words are simple, the songs short, but repetition builds to beauty in local observances of a service that has become increasingly popular worldwide.

The Taizé service offered each month by St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 525 N. Fifth Ave., Sequim, creates a prayerful and meditative time-out from the buzz of life.

The service is open to people of any faith — and those with none, said coordinator Karen Williamson. “People from outside the church come often. There is a spiritual hunger that people feel. Sometimes they don’t feel comfortable in church but still want to experience the presence of God.”

The service is uncomplicated. On entering, attendees receive a sheet with the lyrics to several simple songs, often based on Psalms. Cantors or instrumentalists lead the way on the tunes.

“Most people pick up the tunes very quickly,” said Williamson, as the song is repeated six or seven times. “Repetition and simplicity help you go beyond mind and rest in the presence of God.”

A short reading also is repeated several times, with a minute of silence between each reading.

Attendees are invited to light a candle for the service. At the end, the wcandles are extinguished and people are asked to leave in silence.

“The service creates a mood,” Williamson said, “a sense of presence and of peace and people carry that with them as they leave.”

War and service

The name of the service comes from a monastic order in the French village of Taizé. The order’s Swiss Protestant founder, Brother Roger Schutz, came to the village in 1940 to assist refugees from the Nazi occupation, just as his grandmother had assisted local residents during World War I.  He and his sister, Genevieve, provided simple comforts to many until 1942, when their efforts were discovered and they were forced to escape to Geneva. Schutz entered a community of religious men and brought the group back to Taizé  in 1944. In 1945 Genevieve also returned so that the community could care for war orphans.

Today the community numbers about a hundred men, who have lived only on their work, never accepting donations.

Services at Taizé  developed with what Schutz called “meditative common prayer” and song, usually based on Psalms or other parts of scripture. Jacques Berthier and later Joseph Gelineau, composed much of the music that is still used today, though at  St. Luke’s Williamson occasionally will compose extra parts for cantors or instruments.

Services at the community in Taizé  began as early as the 1960s to attract young people of all faiths — and no faith — to take part in the weekly meetings. Church leaders also have attended, including Pope John Paul II and pastors from all over the world.

St. Luke’s Taizé  team

Taizé  services were first offered at St. Luke’s in 1999. In 2008, a group of people “felt led,” Williamson said, to begin the services again. Although Williamson is the coordinator, she said, the services result from the work of a team, including Carolyn Braun (violin), Ray Braun (guitar), Marilyn Freeman (cantor), Art Moore, Judy Palumbo-Gates, Britt-Nicole Peterson, Jason Popelka (guitar), Gail Terrell, Roger Uhden, Theresa Valenzuela (flute), Gabrielle Valenzuela (guitar), Pauline Olsen (organ), Susan Kaiser and Ely Springer. These members smooth the way for newcomers to enter the service with ease.

Services usually begin with “Veni sancte Spiritus” (Holy Spirit, come to us) and end with “My peace I leave you.” The silence at service’s end is meant to underscore the reflective nature of the event, what Brother Roger called “singing that never ends but continues in the silence of one’s heart when one is alone again.”